6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Abominable (Paperback)
I came to this expecting as others clearly did - and which the artwork strongly hints at - something similar to The Terror, a truly brilliant and original historical//horror novel, weaving mysticism, mythology and horror with excellently researched facts of the ill fated 1840s Franklin expedition, in a terrifyingly atmospheric tale of doomed, stranded men being picked off at will by an unseen entity amidst the desolate, frozen wastes of the unforgiving Arctic. Instead, The Abominable turns out nothiing like it; the first 400 pages are an exhaustive and frankly very tedious detailing of mountaineering techniques and methods of the 1920s as our heroes prepare for an Everest challenge to find the lost remains of a previous expedition that went missing. It's not until around p.500 that the action gets going although we are given some early hints of what the threats might be.
Without wanting to spoil the story, you find yourself thrown into a totally implausible political thriller complete with crude, comic book national stereotypes and caricatures: an insanely brave, eccentric Frenchman with silly accent; a stiff upper lip Brit; a beautiful Anglo-Indian heroine; and of course a group of ruthless and brutal pantomime Nazi villains in hot pursuit. Last of all, our insipid narrator, who's character development never gets to Base Camp, and who seems to do very little throughout the book except get sick and become incapacitated as an excuse for the writer to give us endless details of the causes and effects of altitude sickness.
In the end, we get a horribly lazy, clichéd spy thriller that revolves around Nazis set in 1924/25 and that makes the ahistorical leap of assuming everything that would happen 20 years later was already common knowledge, at a time when the Nazis were little known outside Germany, a historical license that you'd expect in a crude Hollywood historical blockbuster like U-571 or The Patriot, but not in a serious historically researched novel. Some of the unintentionally (or not?) comic peaks such as when heroine's 'clothes fall off' Kenny Everett-style at 27,000 feet to distract Evil Nazi No.1 holding a Lugar at our heroes, and - I kid you not - machine-gun wielding Nazis dressed up as yetis! At points it reminded me of Steve Martin's hilarious spoof noir film Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid [DVD] and I began to wonder if the writer's tongue was in his cheek while writing it.
What I found most frustrating is that the Simmons of "The Terror" appears to have gone missing, or he must have left his writer's imagination at home, because there are so many missed opportunities to create something like the Terror, but instead we get a mountaineer's training manual with a comic book good vs. evil Nazis thriller tagged onto the last two hundred pages.
If he had attempted to weave some of the Buddhist/Tibetan mysticism/mythology that is hinted at, along with the Nazis' documented interest in the origins of the Aryan race from that part of the world - for which Himmler later despatched research expeditions of the 'Ahnenerbe' to locate the origins of the mythical 'aryans' - that might have provided the perfect link between the different stories and a pretext to weave some chilling paranormal/mythologic, occult and horror elements into the narrative. Instead, we're given the crudest mechanism for the whole cloak and dagger business, involving sexual deviance in the Nazi leadership. All of which makes me think either Simmons lost interest in this book early on, or left it to one of his research interns, who simply wrote up all her research, or he wasn't involved in this book at all, but was obliged to publish something to keep his publishers happy and came up with this idea in order to hoodwink those who had read the Terror. Either way, it couldn't be worse if it had been written by his reasercher, a lazy, unimaginative and tiresome disappointment that won't do Simmons' reputation much good.
Finally warning to any German readers you may find the visceral Germanophobia in the book a little hard to stomach. I don't know if it's just a cheap narrative device to pep up a barren plot or the writer's own prejudice, but it belongs to a different era and reinforces the penny-dreadful spy-novel feel of the book.
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Initial post: 16 Feb 2014 16:28:15 GMT
Should have added that a couple of maps and diagrams showing the diffrent approaches and challenges of climbing Mt Everest for those few of us who don't know their 'North Cols' from the 'North Faces' would have been helpful.
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